Rebecca's Reviews > Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton
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Love the cover art. Interesting to read these 1960s essays about Zen from a Christian perspective - easier for someone like me to understand.
pages 30-31 Is there some opening for the Christian consciousness today? If there is, it will have to meet the following great needs of man:
(1) need for community, for a genuine relationship of authentic love with his fellow man - this will imply a deep, in fact completely radical, seriousness in approaching those critical problems which threaten man's very survival as a species on earth - war, racial conflict, hunger, economic and political injustice, etc.;
(2) need for an adequate understanding of his everyday self in his ordinary life - man needs to find ultimate sense here and now in the ordinary humble tasks and human problems of every day;
(3) need for a whole and integral experience of his own self on all its levels, bodily as well as imaginative, emotional, intellectual, spiritual;
(4) need for liberation from inordinate self-consciousness, monumental self-awareness, and obsession with self-affirmation, so that he may enjoy the freedom from concern that goes with being simply what he is and accepting things as they are in order to work with them as he can.

page 32 Zen has much to say not only to a Christian but also to a modern man. It is nondoctrinal, concrete, direct, existential, and seeks above all to come to grips with life itself, not with ideas about life, still less with party platforms in politics, religion, science or anything else.

page 37 Zen is not an idealistic rejection of sense and matter in order to ascend to a supposedly invisible reality which alone is real. The Zen experience is a direct grasp of the unity of the invisible and the visible, the noumenal and the phenomenal, or, if you prefer, an experiential realization that any such division is bound to be pure imagination. [Noumenal = a posited object or event that exists without sense or perception, "thing-in-itself."]

page 38-39 Buddhist meditation, but above all that of Zen, seeks not to explain but to pay attention, to become aware, to be mindful, in other words to develop a certain kind of consciousness that is above and beyond deception by verbal formulas - or by emotional excitement. . . . in understanding Buddhism it would be a great mistake to concentrate on the "doctrine," the formulated philosophy of life, and to neglect the experience, which is absolutely essential, the very heart of Buddhism. This is in a sense the exact opposite of the situation in Christianity. For Christianity begins with revelation. . . . Christianity has always been profoundly concerned with these statements: with the accuracy of their transmission from the original sources, with the precise understanding of their exact meaning, with the elimination and indeed the condemnation of false interpretations. At times this concern has been exaggerated almost to the point of an obsession, accompanied by arbitrary and fanatical insistence on hairsplitting distinctions and the purest niceties of theological detail.

page 40 But the fact remains that for Christianity, a religion of the Word, the understanding of the statements which embody God's revelation of Himself remains a primary concern.

page 61-62 The greatest religions are all, in fact, very simple. They all retain very important essential differences, no doubt, but in their inner reality Christianity, Buddhism, , Islam and Judaism are extremely simple (though capable, as I say, of baffling luxuriance) and they all end up with the simplest and most baffling thing of all: direct confrontation with Absolute Being, Absolute Love, Absolute Mercy or Absolute Void, by an immediate and fully awakened engagement in the living of everyday life. In Christianity the confrontation is theological and affective through word and love. In Zen it is metaphysical and intellectual, through insight and emptiness.

page 79 Buddha's doctrine was not a doctrine but a way of being in the world. His religion was not a set of beliefs and convictions or of rites and sacraments, but an opening to love.


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January 9, 2017 – Shelved
January 9, 2017 – Finished Reading

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